The Shannara Chronicles "S1E4 Changeling" - Review: Change for the better

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The Shannara Chronicles "S1E4 Changeling" - Review: Change for the better

“Why do we fall master Bruce?.... So we can learn to pick ourselves up”. Last week, Shannara fell hard with the disappointing episode it delivered. The question now becomes, has it learned from it? Will it identify and remedy its failures as it stands or will it just roll back-and-forth holding its shin crying a Peter Griffin, “hissssss.... ahhhhhh” in Elfish? Time to find out.

Changeling –Amberele is chosen by the Ellcrys to carry its seed but with an unknown killer (the changeling) still within the palace walls they remain on lock down until that threat is removed. When Cephalo sends Eretria sneaking into the palace to steal back the Elfstones, she is forced into helping them root out the killer.

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Now, after last week’s critical fumble I marked this episode as a "make or break" for the series. While it’s still not without its problems, it is a significant improvement that sees Shannara passing its test even if not with flying colours. Helped by its predominantly singular location, it makes much better use of wider cast members. New boy Brandon is expanded with purpose as a Seer, able to see someone’s death when he touches them. This utilized well within the episode’s plot rather than being a mere gimmick as it allows it to help the group piece together past events as well as avert present disasters. It’s also used well as a point of fun entertainment, a way of showing the main cast members being killed off without suffering the consequences. In fact, a certain close shave save becomes the best moment of the episode.

There are also a few good notes about Brandon viewing his powers as more of a curse, which now sets up his own character arc of learning to accept his abilities. Next, there’s some good work done building the relationship King Eventine and his son/heir, Arion. We saw a bit of this in the first episode, but here it’s much better as it examines the difference between Arion’s right to rule and his readiness, “No one deserves the crown”. Their exchange has hints of Thor and Odin to it, only with Arion receiving the news that he’ll be waiting a while longer as more of a disgruntled child rather than the defiant adolescent stance from the Thunder God. There’s no indications yet of Arion taking decision of succession into his own hands with a coup or good old fashion spot of fratricide (Tyrion Lanister and Commodus Aurelius approve) but the story might wander in that direction.

Many individual sections of the episode are also quite impressive. The opening trail/test (a fantasy version of Luke in the Dagobah cave) is very enjoyable. It sports good effects and a fight with emotional stakes as Amberle is attacked by hallucinations of Lorin and Wil. In fact, if they’d trimmed some fat from episode 3 and made this sequence its ending, it could have saved the episode.

Next up, there’s great character development between Wil and Eretria that builds on their scenes from the first episode, and in a similar fashion, blurs the line between Eretria’s intentions as a thief and her feelings for Wil. It effectively gives the impression that her less favourable actions towards Wil are the product of her current circumstances rather than her personal intentions: fear of her father trumps feelings for the boy. The developments between the pair also have good immediate ramifications between Wil and Amberle as, like any man, Wil finds it isn’t long before he gets caught out on his embellishment with the truth. This is Poppy Drayton’s best episode so far as she deals with such revelations. She reacts just enough to imply Wil means something to her but stays stern enough to imply she has bigger things on her mind than swooning over a boy (like the fate of the world). This is what we want from her as a heroine and it’s much better than her depiction last episode.

This episode is a vast improvement on the last but the biggest problem is that it's still another stalling episode. For all the talk of beginning, the quest and saving the world, the characters spend the entire episode staying put. We’re 40% through the series now, and things are barely in motion which in many ways is selling us short on the fantasy adventure premise of the show. While each episode doesn’t have to be one long LOTR style journey, we still need a sense of progress, and we’re currently not getting enough of that. However, this episode’s conclusion does bode well for that going forward as the now united trio/love triangle of Will, Amberle and Eretria set of on their epic gardening venture to take the seed to Safehold.

The potential is still there but Shannara is now showing tendencies to get tangled up in itself and needs to be more efficient with its narrative if it wants to get any future seasons. Many of the cats are really starting to come into their characters. Wil is still the biggest concern as Austin Butler feels like a guy a cast in a teen drama that showed up on the wrong set. We should all keep in mind that like so many shows, viewers might find the first few episodes before they could find the show's feet, but now, the quest is underway the dice really begin to roll over Shannara’s fate.